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How to See Curacao Like a Local

Need a recipe for making Curaçao from scratch? Take a generous helping of Dutch colonial architecture, mix in a few cups of rich African culture, add several dashes of Spanish and Portuguese spice, and then blend it all together. Finally, serve the hearty mixture atop a gorgeous bed of Caribbean tropical beauty.

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This might sound like an oversimplification of an island with more than 500 years of settlement history. (It was discovered in 1499 by Alonso de Ojeda, one of Christopher Columbus’ lieutenants.) But the more than 50 nationalities represented in the population of 150,000 or so make Curaçao a true smorgasbord of cultural influences.

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Dining and Nightlife

Foodies will be snapping photos and rushing to get their reviews on Yelp after sampling the diversity of Curaçao’s cuisine, which combines a broad range of European, Caribbean, Latin American and East Asian influences, particularly those of Indonesia, another former Dutch colony.

Those who prefer unembellished standbys such as bread, cheese and seafood will find plenty to eat. The country’s unofficial national dish, keshi yena, is a decadent entree made of Edam cheese stuffed with a mixture of shredded chicken, tomatoes, olives, onions, eggs, raisins, capers and spices. More adventurous diners will want to try more exotic options such as yuana (stewed iguana, which tastes a lot like chicken) and kabritu (stewed goat).

After dinner, all the party people flock to the casinos, including the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino, where they can try their luck at the blackjack, poker and other game tables or with the slots in the hopes of making their vacation a little more memorable. While there, try some Curacao, the local liqueur known for its distinctive blue color. It is made from the etheric oil extracted from the dried skins of wild Valencia oranges, which were brought to the island by the Spanish some 500 years ago.

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Sports and Adventures

Baseball is the top spectator sport in Curaçao. In fact, a number of major league all-stars grew up on the island. What’s more, Willemstad’s team is a perennial contender for the Little League World Series.

But while the diamond lures the cheering crowds, the sports that draw the most visitors to the island definitely involve water. Curaçao was voted as having the best snorkeling, best shore diving and best macro marine life by the readers of Scuba Diving Magazine. The island offers 65 different snorkel and dive sites, including the world-renowned Tugboat, the Blue Room and the Mushroom Forest — an undersea jungle of 10-foot, mushroom-shaped star coral.

Its beaches are equally legendary. The southern coast features postcard-worthy stretches that range from intimate Playa Jeremi and Playa Lagun to full-service destinations like Cas Abao and Kontiki, where recreational activities and excellent amenities abound. So while adventure lovers will find plenty to do here, Curaçao is just as attractive for sun-worshippers whose idea of fun involves little more than a comfy chair and a cool tropical drink.

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Willemstad is a port city, so it really is no surprise that shopaholics will find their particular brand of heaven here. Punda is the city’s main shopping district; cars are off limits and pedestrians are free to roam the picturesque streets lined with stately buildings and myriad shops that offer everything from English china and Indonesian clothing to Italian leather and Japanese electronics. Visit the colorful Floating Market, where farmers and fishermen from Venezuela dock their boats every morning to sell fresh tropical fruits, vegetables and seafood at great prices.

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There are several nice shopping centers on the outskirts of Willemstad, including Bloempot Shopping Center, Saliña Galleries, Promenade Shopping Center and Zuikertuin Mall. The Harbor Duty Free Zone is easily the largest in the Caribbean, offering 57 fenced-in acres of tax-free shopping. Keep in mind that all the goods you purchase there must be shipped directly to your home or transferred to your ship or flight.

The Old Market (a.k.a. Marsche Bieuw), a local favorite featuring chefs offering authentic tastes of exotic cuisines spanning the globe, makes a great place to wind down after a long day of shopping.

This story was published as part of a partnership with Marriott Traveler. Read the original story: Dip Into Curacao’s Culture and See the Island Like a Local by Bret Love, a regular contributor to Marriott Traveler.

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